Biggest Threats to Steal Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh from Miami Heat in 2014
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LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can all exercise early-termination options in the summer of 2014, which would make them unrestricted free agents. Financially, it makes perfect sense for all three to pursue that option, as each could secure (at least) two additional years and roughly $40 million more on their contracts.
When they originally joined forces in 2010, each player left a significant amount of money on the table. Instead of opting for the maximum six-year deal ($123,658,089), Bosh and James signed for $109,837,500 while Wade took $107,565,000, according to Basketball Reference.
The financial flexibility provided by all three stars allowed the Heat to fill out their roster with solid complementary players, such as Mike Miller back in 2010. With the NBA's latest collective bargaining agreement's restrictions on luxury tax-paying teams, however, the Big Three's sacrifice still wasn't enough to spare Miller from the amnesty clause during the 2013 offseason. (The move shaved roughly $17 million off the Heat's luxury tax bill, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com.)
Miami will stop at nothing to re-sign James, who's been the catalyst for the team's back-to-back championship runs in 2012 and 2013. However, the CBA effectively makes it incredibly difficult for teams to have three max- or near-max-level players on the roster at one time.
Assuming all three players do opt out, it could ultimately force the Heat to decide between re-signing Bosh or Wade. That could lead to a feeding frenzy in the free agent market, as both Bosh and Wade could land a four-year max contract from a team with the requisite cap space.
Each player comes with his own concerns. Wade's value could be diminished by questions about the health of his knees, while Bosh's paltry rebounding totals from the past few seasons could make a team uneasy about building around him in the frontcourt.
Yet, despite those issues, both Wade and Bosh remain among the NBA's top 25 players. Particularly for teams devoid of any superstar presence, either player would be "manna from heaven," to steal a line from former Minnesota Timberwolves general manager David Kahn.
Given the financial room, a good team fit and championship-contention status in mind, six teams stand out among the rest in the chase for Bosh and/or Wade.
Let's take a look at them.
Note: All salary cap data courtesy of ShamSports.com.
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Miami player likeliest to bolt for Cleveland: Chris Bosh
If LeBron James decides against taking his talents back to Cleveland in 2014, the Cavaliers could be poised to add one of his star teammates instead.
After winning the No. 1 pick in both 2011 and 2013, the Cavs are stacked with promising young talent. Kyrie Irving already appears to be a superstar in the making while Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett could grow into solid complementary pieces.
Both Irving and Thompson will become eligible for a contract extension following the 2013-14 season, which will undoubtedly play into the Cavs' 2014 offseason strategy. Irving appears to be a lock for a max extension and Thompson, while perhaps not max-worthy, should also be due for a significant raise.
To save enough cap space for a maximum-contract free agent, the Cavs could hold off on those extensions for Irving and Thompson until making their major foray into free agency. So long as Irving verbally expresses his desire to stay in Cleveland, a star free agent should feel comfortable signing there.
While Irving, Waiters and Jarrett Jack have the Cavaliers set in the backcourt, their frontcourt could have massive holes following the 2013-14 season. Anderson Varejao and Andrew Bynum both have non-guaranteed contracts for 2014-15, which could leave the Cavs devoid of any veteran presence up front.
Adding Chris Bosh in free agency could help mitigate at least some of those concerns, as he could serve as a mentor to the Cavs' young interior players. He and Thompson could be somewhat interchangeable at the 5, and Bosh's pick-and-pop game would mesh well with Irving's ability to roll to the rim.
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Miami player likeliest to bolt for Chicago: Dwyane Wade
If the Chicago Bulls opt to amnesty Carlos Boozer in the 2014 offseason, they'll be one of the most threatening landing spots for a major free agent.
Because, really, what star player wouldn't want to play next to a talent like Derrick Rose?
Releasing Boozer via the amnesty clause would shave $16.8 million off the Bulls' 2014-15 cap figure, leaving them with only $47,607,661 in committed salaries. With the projected 2014-15 salary cap of $62.5 million, according to ESPN.com's Larry Coon, the Bulls would have roughly $15 million in cap space if they allow Luol Deng to leave in free agency once his contract expires following the 2013-14 season.
After missing the entire 2012-13 season to recover from ACL surgery, don't be surprised to see D-Rose bounce back with an MVP-caliber season in 2013-14. He is, after all, the only player not named LeBron James to win the league's MVP award since the 2008-09 season.
Throw in one of the NBA's best defensive centers in Joakim Noah and an up-and-coming wing player, Jimmy Butler, and the Bulls have a talented, yet affordable, Big Three. Adding one more star player could vault the Bulls into being the favorite to win the 2015 NBA championship.
While Chris Bosh would make sense as Boozer's replacement, Dwyane Wade is the more likely of the two Miami Heat stars to join the Bulls. He's a Chicago native who the Bulls yearned to draft back in 2003, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst, and he flirted with joining the Bulls back in 2010 before convincing Bosh and LeBron James to instead come to Miami.
Jimmy Butler has the 2 spot locked up in 2013-14, but if Deng leaves as a free agent, the addition of Wade could allow Butler to slide to the 3. A starting five of Rose, Wade, Butler, Taj Gibson and Noah would be a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the court.
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Miami player likeliest to bolt for Dallas: Dwyane Wade
If desperation is a stinky cologne, then call Mark Cuban "Pepe Le Pew."
On Aug. 3, Cuban published a 3,000-word blog post defending the Dallas Mavericks' team-building strategy since winning the 2010-11 NBA championship. He expressed the belief that the Oklahoma City Thunder's model of rebuilding (lose enough to score a few high draft picks) will only grow increasingly difficult as more teams adopt that strategy.
Instead, Cuban plans on adding top players through available cap room or trades in coming years. One thing that will only help Cuban's cause? Dirk Nowitzki reportedly plans on taking a "significant pay cut" in 2014, according to ESPN Dallas.
Even after re-signing the Big German, the Mavericks should have enough cap space next summer to sign a free agent to a maximum contract. They only have roughly $30 million on their books for the 2014-15 season (not including Dirk).
Chris Bosh doesn't make much sense in Dallas, as his skill set is similar, not complementary, to Nowitzki's. Dwyane Wade, on the other hand, could be an excellent sidekick to Nowitzki in the twilight of his career, and his addition could allow Monta Ellis to slide to a sixth-man role.
While it may be hard to fathom Wade joining the team that prevented him from winning the 2010-11 title, loyalty means very little in professional sports. If he believed the Mavericks could help him win a title, Wade could easily jump ship.
Golden State Warriors
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Miami player likeliest to bolt for Golden State: Chris Bosh
Thanks to the "Splash Brothers" duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the promise of Harrison Barnes and the signing of Andre Iguodala, the Golden State Warriors have entered a new era of NBA relevancy.
Coach Mark Jackson and owner Joe Lacob have taken serious pains to change the culture around the franchise, which was once one of the laughingstocks of the NBA.
After the Warriors upset the Denver Nuggets in the 2013 playoffs, top free agents like Dwight Howard began to seriously consider the Warriors as a potential landing spot. While the Dubs couldn't land Howard, Iguodala wasn't a bad consolation prize by any means.
If the Warriors don't re-sign Andrew Bogut after his contract expires in 2014, the team should have approximately $12 million in cap space for free agents. That alone wouldn't likely be enough to entice Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh into coming to Golden State.
The Warriors could free up additional cap space by trading away David Lee, however, who proved expendable after tearing his right hip flexor in the first game of the 2013 playoffs. Harrison Barnes took Lee's spot in the starting lineup, and the Dubs thrived from there.
The Dubs would have to trade Lee for expiring contracts during the 2013-14 season to free up that requisite cap space. If the Boston Celtics can't stomach a full-out tanking season, a deal structured around Kris Humphries' expiring deal could be amenable to both sides.
Assuming Golden State does trade Lee to create more cap room for 2014 free agents, Chris Bosh would be far more likely to join the team than Dwyane Wade. The Warriors, like the Cleveland Cavaliers, are set in the backcourt, but have numerous questions in the frontcourt following the 2013-14 season.
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Miami player likeliest to bolt for Indiana: Dwyane Wade
If there's any team in the Eastern Conference that the Miami Heat should fear, it's the Indiana Pacers.
Indiana had Miami on the ropes in both the 2012 and 2013 playoffs. Those experiences have only further fueled the Pacers' confidence in their ability to take down the two-time defending champions.
As Paul George demonstrated throughout the 2013 playoffs, he's one of the league's budding superstars. After a slow start to the 2012-13 season, Roy Hibbert also proved during the postseason why the Pacers rewarded him with a four-year max contract in the summer of 2012.
A source told ESPN.com's Marc Stein it's a "foregone conclusion" that the Pacers will offer George a max extension, most likely by the Oct. 31 deadline. Doing so would remove any possibility of Indiana signing either Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh outright next summer.
If Pacers team president Larry Bird can get creative with a sign-and-trade, likely involving Danny Granger, Indiana could still offer either player a sizable contract. While Pat Riley may not be keen on sign-and-trading Wade to a chief rival, a three-team trade that nets Miami a legitimate center (such as Omer Asik or Nikola Pekovic?) and a handful of young players or draft picks could convince him otherwise.
As long as the Pacers keep David West around, they likely won't pursue Bosh, but Wade could be especially dangerous in their starting lineup as a third option behind George and Hibbert. The addition of Wade would push Lance Stephenson into a sixth-man role, which could allow him to further blossom, too.
Los Angeles Lakers
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Miami player likeliest to bolt for L.A. Lakers: Chris Bosh
After striking out on re-signing Dwight Howard, the Los Angeles Lakers have turned their attention fully toward the summer of 2014. They have approximately $10 million in contracts currently on the books after the 2013-14 season, leaving enough cap room for two max-contract players.
While their rumored interest in LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony likely won't pan out, Chris Bosh could be an excellent consolation prize for the Lakers in 2014.
At this point, one can only assume that Kobe Bryant will re-sign with the Lakers once his contract expires following the 2013-14 season. If Bryant stays, that effectively eliminates any chance of Dwyane Wade joining L.A.
The Lakers' frontcourt, however, will likely need all the help it can get. Both Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman will become free agents after this season, meaning both members of the starting frontcourt could depart in the 2014 offseason.
If Gasol gets back into his groove with Howard in Houston, it wouldn't be a total shock to see the Lakers re-sign him for significantly less money next summer. If they do, Bosh's pick-and-pop ability would make him an ideal complement to Gasol.
Gasol's presence would also allow Bosh to slide back to the 4, his natural position. Despite playing the 5 for Miami since the 2012 playoffs, Bosh greatly resisted the move to center earlier in his career.